A group of friends celebrating the new year

Making meaning in a season of resolutions: Healthy reflections for the new year

As we approach the end of 2023 and anticipate the year ahead, many people see the New Year as a time of connection, remembrance, goal-setting and festivity. Many of us feel hopeful and interested in making positive, impactful changes in our lives or continuing the work we have already started. We may be looking for helpful strategies and accountability to build a new habit, to revive or revisit an old interest or hobby, and/or to achieve an important goal.  In fact, about 40% of Americans set resolutions in the new year, according to a study by psychology professor John C. Norcross

Making resolutions and setting goals can positively impact your mental health and give you a sense of purpose. Though, as Norcross found, less than half of folks who set resolutions are successful after 6 months. The New Year can be quite overwhelming and anxiety-inducing, especially after the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, reduced sunlight and cooler temperatures. For many, this time of year stirs up difficult emotions around family relationships or grief from the loss of loved ones.

Perhaps, we can approach the New Year with a different lens and shift our focus to ways we can create and discover more meaning in our lives. In fact, we may end up achieving the goals we set out to or taking meaningful next steps in the direction of our hopes and desires.  

While there are countless ways to make meaning in our lives, this blog will explore a few strategies from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) that are widely used to enhance aliveness and generate purpose.  

Below are five different tips and practices to carry with you into the new year.  

  1. Practice gratitude:
    It’s no wonder that gratitude practices are so commonly encouraged across many heath, wellness and spiritual disciplines. If you do any research on gratitude, you’ll notice its widespread use as a free, effective and simple way to enhance well-being.  When we consider what we are thankful for, we are shifting our perspective to focus on and affirm the good we already have, within ourselves and around us. Practicing gratitude makes us “appreciate the value of something” and show up to engage more fully in life, as emphasized by the Greater Good Science Center.

    Research shows gratitude is a long-lasting, positive and significant way to reduce and protect against anxiety. Gratitude can also lead to stronger relationships, improved mental health, and lower levels of stress. Studies have also found that people are more successful at accomplishing goals by practicing gratitude. Specifically, according to the Gratitude Project, people who keep a gratitude journal are more “energetic, alive, awake and alert” and motivated towards generosity, compassion and making a contribution to the world outside of themselves. Writing, vocalizing to a friend/family member, or creating art are common ways to express gratitude and can offer an opportunity to take root in the joy within and around you.

  2. Lean into community:
    We are wired for connection and belonging. As Brene Brown states, “Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they drive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” While meaning often comes from within, it also develops from relationships with other people. Many people also find meaning, hope and perspective from a connection with a higher power.

  3. Consider ways to be more present:
    You can generate meaning and joy in your life by tuning in, slowing down and fostering an increased awareness of what you’re experiencing in the moment. What are you feeling physically, mentally and emotionally right now? Your breath is a common anchor to lean on, to check in with your body and get grounded in the moment. 

    Getting outside, even for a few minutes, can offer incredible health benefits for both children and adults. Spending time in nature sends your body into a relaxation response, according to Dharma Singh Khalsa in the book Brain Longevity. When you are relaxed, “you will experience a decrease in blood pressure, decrease in cortisol output (stress hormone), heightened immunity, decrease in muscle tension and increase in alertness”, as Virginia Yurich states. It’s pretty amazing that the simple act of being outside can reduce your stress response and increase your capacity to pay more attention.  

    One exercise that is helpful to get grounded in the moment is to awaken your senses to your surroundings. What are 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell and 1 thing you taste? This ACT practice of presence allows you to recognize what is actually taking place and to connect more deeply with yourself and the world around you.  

    Another suggestion is to go on an Awe Outing. Dacher Keltner from the Greater Good Science Center conducted studies that demonstrate how the experience of awe, wonder and inspiration can make us feel more connected to something more significant than ourselves, which can lead to a stronger sense of purpose.

  4. Integrate movement into your routine:
    Physical activity has a profound impact on your mental and emotional well-being and physical health. Consistent physical activity is shown to reduce anxiety and depression, increase energy, improve sleep and enhance overall quality of life. While some people are drawn to strength training or endurance sports such as running or swimming, the simple act of walking, even just 5 minutes every day, has lasting benefits. Walking increases your endorphins (feel-good hormones) and is shown to reduce stress.  Regardless of the activity you choose, “the best form of exercise is the one you will maintain”, states Dr. Michael Lam, MD, MPH, ABAAM. A common way to create strong results is through consistency and a practice called “habit stacking”, which involves adding a new behavior by building off of a strength, habit or practice you’ve already successfully integrated into your routine.

  5. Explore your values:
    Reflecting on what matters to you is a helpful practice in integrating meaning and creating internal alignment. Identifying and clarifying your most important values can provide perspective, focus, motivation and direction as you make decisions and choose goals to pursue in various aspects of life, including your relationships, how you spend your time or money, and the person you want to be.

    One way to explore what you hold meaningful is to identify what you want to say no to or let go of. For example, as ACT practitioner Russ Harris suggests, perhaps there are things that exhaust your energy or time, keep you from things you’d rather be doing or have a harmful impact on your health. Maybe you want to work on minimizing self-criticisms, worries or unhelpful narratives that hold you back from your full potential. 

    Another way to identify what you believe to be important is to examine what you want to say yes to and move towards, such as strengths you want to build on, things you want to do more of, and/or ways you want to develop yourself. Writing down your reflections in a journal or in a worksheet such as this ACT values worksheet can be helpful. Creating a visual representation of values through a vision board is another meaningful way to connect to what you want and desire.

Closing Thoughts

As we wrap up 2023 and enter into 2024, it can be a healthy time to pause, reflect and look forward to what’s ahead. Gaining perspective from honoring the last year and exploring practices to create a more meaningful, rich life, can boost self-esteem, increase confidence, and enhance personal growth. Perhaps you’ll develop new traditions or rhythms that tap into what has been there all along. Whatever way you choose to enter into the new year, my hope is that you will experience joy, nourishing connection and a deep appreciation for the beauty that is within you and all around.

Happy New Year. 

References & Resources




  • Harris, R. (2006). Embracing your demons: An overview of acceptance and commitment therapy. Psychotherapy in Australia, 12(4), 70.
  • Harris, R. (2014). The Complete Set of Client Handouts and Worksheets from ACT books. Retrieved from https://thehappinesstrap.com/upimages/Complete_Worksheets_2014.pdfWilson, K. G., & Murrell, A. R. (2004). Values work in acceptance and commitment therapy. Mindfulness and acceptance: Expanding the cognitive-behavioral tradition. New York: Guilford, 120-151.